Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) affects between 8 to 12 million people in the U.S., with African-Americans more than twice as likely than Caucasians to suffer from the disorder. This condition occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries (called atherosclerosis) that carry blood to the head, organs and limbs. Over time, the plaque can harden, causing the arteries to narrow, restricting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body. Although PAD usually affects the legs, causing leg pain when walking, it can also affect the head, arms, kidneys and stomach.

Symptoms of the PAD

Some signs of the disease include:

  • Painful cramping in the hip, thigh or calf muscles after walking or climbing stairs
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Coldness in the lower leg or foot
  • Sores on the toes, feet or legs that won't go away
  • A pale or bluish color to the skin
  • Changes in your toenails

Although the most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, the exact cause of atherosclerosis is unknown. But there are certain factors that increase the risk of developing PAD, including:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure (140/90 millimeters of mercury or higher)
  • High amounts of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood
  • Increasing age, especially after age 50
  • Family history of PAD, heart disease or stroke

If you suffer from symptoms of PAD, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Getting an early diagnosis of PAD can not only help preserve the health of your limbs, but can also help decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke and other health problems.

Treatment for PAD may include lifestyle changes; drugs, such as medicines to lower high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure and blood thinners to prevent clots; and surgery. Some lifestyle changes you can make to manage symptoms and stop PAD progression include:

  • Stop smoking. Smoking can constrict the arteries and worsen PAD. Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to lower disease progression and reduce your risk of complications.
  • Get Physical. Talk to your doctor about what the best exercise routine is for you. Following a proper exercise program designed by your doctor helps condition the muscles to use oxygen more efficiently.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eating a heart-healthy diet of foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids, including fatty cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel and herring, can help control your blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.